Peter Montgomery

Peter Montgomery is a senior fellow at People For the American Way Foundation, where he leads the organization’s research and writing on the Religious Right. Follow him on Twitter: @petemont

Recent Articles

Freedom of Speech Doesn’t Require Tech Companies to Carry Alex Jones’s Destructive Lies

The First Amendment’s protections do not mean that people have the right to be free of the consequences of what they say, or that companies have an obligation to provide them a platform.

(Tamir Kalifa/Austin American-Statesman via AP)
With the news that Apple, Spotify, Facebook, and YouTube have shut down accounts associated with Alex Jones’s Infowars program, right-wing complaints about the tech industry’s supposed “war” on conservatives’ free speech rights are certain to intensify. Jones is trying to portray himself as some kind of free-speech martyr. For example, after Right Wing Watch’s Jared Holt pointed out that Spotify was streaming Infowars’s podcasts in violation of the company’s stated policies, generating widespread criticism, Jones declared that he was in “a war for your First Amendment.” So let’s clarify a few things. Freedom of speech is indeed a cherished freedom and fundamental constitutional right. The First Amendment’s free speech protections, while not absolute, do protect the right of people to say even stupid and offensive things. But the First Amendment’s protections against government censorship do not mean that...

The Religious Right Moves to Cement Political Power Under President Trump

Conservative evangelicals have seen more victories in a Trump administration than they probably would have under any other Republican.

AP Photo/Steve Helber
Amid the stream of outrage about President Donald Trump that dominates my Facebook feed, one friend desperately sought a silver lining: “Well, at least we don’t have the theocrat Pence as President.” It reminded me that I, like some of my LGBTQ friends, thought during the Republican primary that we would prefer Trump to someone like Ted Cruz, whose unshakeable religious-right ideology and matching policy agenda was clear. We were wrong. My Facebook friend is wrong. Not only is Trump a reckless and divisive president who shows contempt for anyone who crosses him and who has energized a white nationalist movement that could wreak havoc on American political and social culture for a long time to come—he’s also the best thing that’s ever happened to the religious right. To be fair, there was a logical foundation for believing that Trump would be less of a culture warrior than a president who is a conservative evangelical. Pence has a long anti-choice...

Supreme Court: Defendant’s Race Cannot Inform Sentencing

In October, we covered Buck v. Davis, a death penalty case that was being argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. On Wednesday, February 22, the Court ruled in favor of convicted murderer and condemned prisoner Duane Buck and sent his case back to the appeals court. Procedurally, the case was a complicated mess, but it was ultimately about keeping racial bias from contributing to a man’s execution. As we noted at the time:

In the broadest sense, the moral and societal question facing the Court is whether in America a man may be sentenced to death based on evidence that is unconstitutionally tainted by racial stereotyping. But the actual technical and legal question before the Supreme Court is whether the Fifth Circuit erred in upholding a lower court’s refusal to grant Duane Buck the right to appeal a district court’s finding that his case is not sufficiently “extraordinary” for a federal court to intervene.

A 6-2 majority of the Court ruled that the Fifth Circuit was wrong to deny Buck the certificate required to make this appeal. The majority opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts ruled that Buck’s counsel was ineffective, noting that that the jury in his sentencing phase had been told by the expert called by Buck’s own lawyer that “that the color of Buck’s skin made him more deserving of execution.”

Buck’s attorneys praised the ruling. “Today, the Supreme Court made clear that there is no place for racial bias in the American criminal justice system,” said Christina Swarns, litigation director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “By acknowledging that Mr. Buck’s trial counsel’s injection of racially biased evidence into the capital sentencing proceedings was unconstitutional, the Court has reaffirmed the longstanding principle that criminal punishments—particularly the death penalty—cannot be based on immutable characteristics such as race.”

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, joined by Justice Samuel Alito. Thomas wrote that the majority opinion “bulldozes procedural obstacles and misapplies settled law” to achieve a desired outcome. Thomas argued that the testimony presented in Buck’s sentencing that being black made him more violence prone was not prejudicial. 

High Court Hears Case Challenging Discriminatory Testimony

A case now being argued before the Supreme Court challenges the constitutionality of supposedly “expert” testimony claiming that race can determine a criminal’s danger to society.

(Photo: Flickr/Brittany Hogan)
Duane Buck’s life was on the line in May 1997, when a Texas jury considering whether to sentence him to death on murder charges heard “expert” testimony that Buck was more likely to pose a continuing threat to society because he is black. Nearly 20 years later, Buck’s life is still on the line, as the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on Wednesday in a case challenging the constitutionality of such racial stereotyping. To the growing number of Americans protesting racial disparities in the criminal justice system, the fact that such a question could even come before the high court demonstrates an arguably stunning double standard. Buck’s murder conviction is not being contested—only the fairness of the sentencing trial that Texas law requires before the state can impose the death penalty. In the words of Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the case is about whether the state may take an...

One Year After Marriage Equality, Progress and Peril for LGBT Americans

The one-year anniversary of marriage equality in the U.S. comes at a watershed moment for LGBT organizers, who are launching new initiatives and forging fresh alliances amid a conservative backlash.

(Photo: AP/David Goldman)
June was a momentous month for LGBT Americans, as the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s historic marriage equality ruling collided with a gun massacre at an Orlando gay nightclub, turning Pride celebrations into vigils for the 49 mostly Latino victims. We noted last year that the LGBT movement’s big push after marriage equality would be to win more legal protections against discrimination. Even before the Orlando shooting, this year had witnessed an energetic right-wing pushback against those efforts, as well as continued pockets of resistance to the marriage ruling itself. The post-marriage-equality backlash is the latest manifestation of a longer-term struggle that well predates the high court’s landmark Obergefell v. Hodges ruling on June 26 of last year. For decades, social conservatives have resisted every step toward cultural visibility and legal equality for LGBT people. In a by-now familiar pattern, progress triggers resistance marked by shifting...

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